“10 minutes past midnight. Waiting at the red light. A faint shrieking voice pierces the darkness. The yellow lights of the long narrow tunnel ahead, flicker for an instant. The traffic light turns green. He grabs the steering wheel with sweaty hands and the car slowly slides into the darkness…”
It’s already summer and summer is the season for telling horror stories in Japan. For some people, on the other hand, it’s also the best time for kimodameshi, passing a test of courage and visiting haunted or creepy places.
Here is my top 3 selection of the most awe-inspiring spots in Kansai area.
Ironic name for an amusement park that has become one of the creepiest places all over Japan. Open in 1961, the park was meant to be a copy of Disneyland and with almost 1.6 million visitors a year at its peak, it surely was one of the greatest attractions of the area. However, with Tokyo Disneyland and USJ opening in Osaka in 2001, the interest for Nara Dreamland dropped radically, until the number of visitors became so scarce that the closure was unavoidable. It happened on 31 August 2006. Ever since, everything was left behind, from roller coasters to merry go rounds, like in a suspended state.
Grass, trees, and bushes engulfed the former playgrounds while rust and dirt completely covered the shine that the place once bore. From 2013 on, the former amusement park started to gather the attention of foreign bloggers who managed to get inside and take pictures. These pictures(including the one above) became so viral that the Japanese interest for the ruins of Nara Dreamland rose exponentially. At present, the place gathers youngsters who want to test their courage, just like 20 years ago it did so but in a totally less grim atmosphere. Since 2014, there have been Japanese bloggers who claimed that the place is not only extremely creepy, but also the place of supernatural events, including objects moving all of a sudden, shadows crawling behind the abandoned buildings, weird sounds… However, there is little to no evidence of any suspicious deaths connected to the amusement park, therefore the probability of Dreamland being a haunted spot is extremely low.
Haunted or not, the place is growing into one of the most frightening, nightmare inducing Japanese ruins. Definitely not a Dreamland anymore, but still beautiful in its own eerie way.
As far as haunted places and ghost stories go, there is probably no better place than Kyoto. Not only does the old capital have an abundance of ancient temples and shrines, but also if you dwell into the background story of their places, most of them are somehow connected to a bloody historical event that was afterwards turned into some terrifying and just as bloody legend. Kubitsuka Daimyojin is a good example of how history becomes legend and legends give life to a present day haunted spot.
Situated on road 9, near Oi no saka, the tiny- one would say even shabby- shrine doesn’t gather much attention during the day. The story of the place is based on the Heian period story, Shutendouji whose main character is a demon. Shutendouji lives in the Oe mountain with his demonic peer, and from time to time goes into the capital, Heiankyou (Kyoto’s former name), abducting young women. To put an end to this pillage, the court sends Minamotono Yorimitsu with three other heroes (one of which was Watanabeno Tsuna, famous for the Rashomon demon-slaying adventure) to kill Shutendouji. They find him in an iron palace, and with the help of a few magical items, including some wine that makes demons reveal their true face, they cut the Shutendouji’s head.
It’s particularly this – the head of Shutendouji – that is apparently buried under the Kubitsuka Shrine and the reason why this place was built to begin with. Yorimitsu and his crew brought the demon’s head as close as possible to the capital so that the kegare (spiritual foulness) doesn’t spread into the town. Oi no saka was a crossroads and also a barrier against evil spirits according to the Japanese feng shui practices, therefore best place to bury the head of a demon, in order to exorcise its power and also close enough to the capital so that anyone can check the authenticity of the story, far enough to keep Kyoto safe from any demonic attack. The shrine built upon the tomb, Kubitsuka (literally the tomb of the head) is meant to pacify the evil spirit, and has been doing that quite successfully, considering the fact that nowadays there is even a Shutendouji matsuri and people come to Kubitsuka to pray for health. Needless to say, the place has been used by Japanese “ghost busters” for years. The Shutendouji legend, the eerie atmosphere, and the lack of visitors most times of the year make it the perfect place for a haunting story.
Named many times the scariest place in Japan, the Kiyotaki Tunnel has been gathering the public interest for decades.
During the Namboku period(1336-1392) it was a battlefield as well as an execution place, therefore it stands to reason that it wouldn’t have been that difficult to become a haunted spot. Or at least to fuel the imagination of those who believe it is. Built in 1929 the tunnel has a distinct creepy atmosphere, enhanced by the yellow lights and the moss-covered walls. However, the reports about supernatural sightings in the area only started after a girl committed suicide in the late 90s. Her skelleton was found in 1998 haging by the neck, very close to the tunnel.
After that the ghost stories surrounding the place practically exploded.
The ghosts people claim to have seen are mostly women, old, young, some crying some angry, some fully visible, some only showing themselves in the rear window. Others heard a wailing male voice as if coming from the walls of the tunnel. Not surprising considering the number of construction workers who died while building the structure.
There is also a scary local story regarding the traffic lights in the area. If by any chance the traffic light before the tunnel shows green don’t rush to catch it. This is, as the legend goes, a light from the other side, inviting you in. Disregard his advice, and the tunnel you get in will be populated by all sorts of ghosts trying to end your life. If the light is green let it turn red -of course, first pull over- and when it turns green again you can safely pass.
The belief is so deeply rooted that you can actually see cars pulled over on the side of the road, and people looking worried at the color of the traffic light.